Scott Worthington is a busy and visible figure in LA’s tight new music scene, both as a composer and contemporary music bassist. He occupies both roles with his own ensemble et cetera, along with clarinetist Curt Miller and percussionist Dustin Donahue. Even the Light Itself Falls, their September 2013 release on emerging experimental label Populist Records, showcases both Worthington’s formidable artistry as a chamber musician and his unique compositional vision.
Worthington’s concert-length work Even the Light Itself Falls opens with a plaintive two-note clarinet figure, repeating several times as it jumps across the instrument’s registers. One feels that this simple gesture is never far away as the piece unfolds – each languid phrase derives from its meditative and bifurcated space, often isolated among stretches of silence. They explore the dual existences central to the piece: inhalation and exhalation, activity and rest, sound and its ultimate tendency towards silence. Worthington delicately probes the limits of his ensemble et cetera’s unlikely instrumentation, developing the material very slowly over the piece’s 86 minutes. Rather than working in tight formation, each instrument evolves on its own timeline, like viscous layers flowing over each other.
Each player often occupies the extreme registers of their instruments, though never sounding forced or tense: Curt Miller’s clarinet often hovers in its sonorous and doleful low register, while the composer’s double bass floats above with ghostly, singing harmonics. Dustin Donahue’s percussion provides a crystalline counterpoint that punctuates the sparse atmosphere. Superficially, the comparatively sharp tones of the pitched percussion seem out of place, breaking the meditative and sustained texture created by the other two instruments, especially when Donahue changes instruments during a gesture. However, these help define the large and meandering form, ushering the other instruments into new gestures and registers.
Though there’s certainly directionality present in the work’s form (e.g. the bass notes move lower as the piece progresses), the music seems consciously suspended in time. It’s not hard to imagine the work as an arbitrary window onto waves of sound, their steady undulation unaware of observation. I’m glad that this recording exists to bring a work like this outside the concert hall – I’ve been putting this record on for weeks, sometimes starting it from the beginning and drifting in and out of attention as I clean my house or run errands, or sometimes starting in the middle and listening to a ten minute chunk with focus. The joy of repeated, non-linear listening is greatly aided by the intimate, detailed work of the production team (Clint Davis, Scott Worthington, and Nick Tipp).
Worthington’s liner notes cite “a constant pull toward stillness” in the music, “as though the sounds search for silence but never discover it.” This is music of timelessness, of constant contradiction, of unending ebb and flow.